Lettuce Learn to Wash Produce Properly
Tips to keep your fruits and veggies safe and healthy.
The government's recent warning about some packaged fresh spinach has people
worried about the safety of their produce, especially greens and lettuces.
After an outbreak of E. coli infections, the Food and Drug Administration
recommended that consumers not eat any products containing fresh spinach from
Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, Calif., with a date code of Oct.
1, 2006, or earlier.
Apparently, the particular strain of E. coli involved in this outbreak
cannot be washed off. But other spinach, greens, and lettuce are considered
safe to eat -- as long as they are washed properly.
Fear of contamination should not keep you from enjoying the many nutritional
benefits of produce, says David Grotto, RD, a spokesman for the American
"Just make sure you follow safe food-handling procedures in your
kitchen, and you can continue to enjoy all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and
disease-protecting health benefits of all produce, including lettuces and
greens," Grotto says.
But how do you make sure you're following these safe procedures? WebMD asked
the experts for tips about the care and handling of fresh produce.
Tips for Washing Produce
Keep in mind that produce is a raw product, grown in dirt, which is handled
by lots of people before it ever gets into your kitchen. Bacteria can be
transferred from dirt residue, or from any of the people handling the produce
before and after it arrives in the supermarket.
To ensure the safety of your produce, including organic produce, it's
important to wash it well, using proper technique, experts say. It's better to
be safe and wash all produce -- even bananas and melons with tough skins and
rinds -- to remove any dirt, pesticides, or bacteria.
Many people are not accustomed to washing melons, but "salmonella on the
rind of a melon can be transferred to the knife and contaminate the flesh of
the melon if you don't wash it," says Grotto.
There is one exception to the washing rule: Bagged salad mixes that are
pre-washed do not need to be washed again, Feist says. But if the salad package
does not indicate that it is washed -- or if you have any doubts -- wash it
Here are five tips for proper cleaning and handling of fresh produce:
- The produce is not the only thing you need to wash. Wash your hands
thoroughly, using warm water and soap, for at least 20 seconds before and after
handling food. "Dirty hands are a very common source of bacterial
contamination," says Feist. "Hand washing is one of the most important
things you can do to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness."
- Wash the produce under a stream of cool water or using the spray nozzle of
- Rub the produce with your hands, or scrub with a vegetable brush, to remove
potential bacteria in all the grooves and crevices.
- No soap or special solutions are necessary; plain, cool water is the best
agent. "Solutions designed to wash produce have not shown any advantage of
reducing pathogens on produce over using cool running water," Feist
- One potential source of contamination is your own kitchen. Knives, cutting
boards, counters, plates, and sponges should be cleaned with soap and water to
prevent contamination. "Sponges stay moist and are often breeding grounds
for bacterial contamination, so we recommend using clean cloth towels instead
of sponges, and washing them often," says Feist. If you prefer sponges,
wash them often, in either the dishwasher or washing machine.
- Store perishable fruits and vegetables (such as strawberries, lettuce,
herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator kept at 40 degrees or below, the
FDA recommends. And always refrigerate produce that was purchased pre-cut or
peeled, to maintain quality and safety.